Two new bars help to build the momentum behind Thai craft beer, but in decidedly distinct styles
Goldencoins goes for broke
Fans of defunct craft beer bar Let the Boy Die may have been relieved to find a familiar face manning taps in Ekkamai. Pipattanaphon ‘Pieak’ Pumpo, a leading figure among Bangkok’s legion of rebel brewers and co-founder of the aforementioned Chinatown bar, has returned with a new project, Goldencoins. And while the former architect’s taproom doesn’t stray from the script, it does send a more personal message—Goldencoins is his bar, his beer, and his brand.
Like Let the Boy Die, this new venture is low-lit and intimate. Wood and brick loom large in the interiors, and chalkboard menus list the kitchen’s comfort food, including pork and beef ribs from the Meat & Bones team (B360/B550), fish sauce-battered chicken wings (B180), and a platter of different Thai sausages (B180). The focus, likewise, is on craft beer and conversation. Long tables encourage chatter, and you actually have to talk to the bartenders to get your beer. But unlike the previous bar, which opened its taps to any brewer trying to catch a break, Goldencoins is Pieak’s pet project, a bar featuring his brews only.
On an alfresco patio, a few stools face a white wall with six silver taps. Out of these six, which are pretty much within arm’s reach, Pieak says he’ll serve four core beers at all times: a well-balanced pale ale, a hoppy amber ale, his chestnut-laced Happy Stout, and an easy-drinking IPA he beefs up with a bevy of hops, including Simcoe and Centennial. The other taps will rotate, showcasing any of the 20-plus styles he’s playing around with—from a smooth, sweet cream ale that’s redolent of vanilla, to a caramel toffee stout, and what should be a throat-tickling triple IPA that goes through secondary fermentation with oak chips. Each beer comes in between B150 and B180, dropping to B100 for the 5pm to 7pm happy hours.
The beer is so affordable it might raise eyebrows, but it remains affordable for a couple of reasons. “I don’t care about legal or illegal, everybody should be able to drink good beer,” Pieak says, referring to the draconian laws that have turned homebrewing into a shadow operation in Thailand, as well as his unabashed passion for craft beer. “It shouldn’t be expensive, either,” he adds.
To keep prices down, he and his partner have set up a 1,500-litre fermenter in Ho Chi Minh City. Since Vietnam is a member of ASEAN, and small-batch brewing is legal there, Pieak can legally import his beers back into Thailand without incurring the sky-high tariffs levied on European and American alcohol. Many accomplished Thai homebrewers have turned to this tack in recent months, and while it’s not an ideal arrangement, it does give brewers like Pieak—who started from scratch—the liberty to challenge the Thai beer market’s monopoly on styles and flavours.
The Goldencoins taproom might feel like a work in progress, but it’s safe to say Pieak is in the right place. “I want to brew beer,” he says. “That’s my job. It’s what I want to do.”
3 Bears is just right
As Goldencoins was opening this winter, another Thai craft beer bar nearly flew under the radar. In August of 2016, 3 Bears Craft Brewery officially opened in a brick-clad building at the bend of Sukhumvit Soi 22. Unlike Goldencoins, Let the Boy Die, or even the short-lived Mystic Rooftop Bar, 3 Bears wasn’t outwardly emboldening the underground homebrewing movement. Rather, this slick setup brought to Bangkok the craft beer bar vibe common in the West, and other cosmopolitan Asian capitals, such as Hong Kong and Taipei.
Now, half a year after opening, 3 Bears has started to hit its stride. The bar is a collaborative project launched by an architect, a sound engineer, and a chef from Seven Spoons, and stands out both for what it is and where it is. A sort of industrial design defines the interiors, with red brick walls, dark wood accents, and pods of Edison bulbs dangling from a lofted ceiling. There’s a stage set up on one end for live music, and a well-lit minimal bar at the other. Unlike many of the soi’s more upmarket offerings, 3 Bears offers a retreat for both socialites and beer geeks, where the hair can be let down and the sleeves rolled up.
On the tap list are five kinds of beer, each a different style, all brewed and kegged in Taiwan before being imported into Thailand—a perfectly legal operation. The team says the Goldilocks Blonde Ale is the most popular, and it’s easy to see why. The beer goes down smooth and has pleasant tropical undertones that play to the local palate. Those who prefer more potent brews, however, should turn to the Hunter’s IPA. Liberal amounts of Cascade hops give it a mildly bitter profile and beautiful citrus aroma. And do try the Gorilla Stout, a full-bodied dark beer with roasted coffee and bittersweet chocolate notes. It’s the best of the bunch.
While those brews sound relatively benign, the team does take some risks. The Summer Snow Champagne Ale is a rare style for a local brewer to attempt. It’s a Berliner Weisse, a sour white ale that is something of an acquired taste (you either love sour beers or hate them, for the most part). In the hotter months, the beer can be quite refreshing, and it’s worth a taste, if nothing else, especially during happy hours from 4pm to 7pm each day, when beer prices drop from B240 to B190 (there are nightly deals, too, including a weekly beer buffet).
The food menu features brewpub favourites, like piquant tempura-fried calamari (B260) and fried chicken wings (B260), as well as fancier offerings, including spaghetti vongole (B280), ox shank Bolognese (B320), and char-grilled New Zealand lamb (B780)—the latter options the brainchild of the chef-partner, of course.
Between the unique craft beer, the bistro-quality food, and the cool interior design, 3 Bears feels a world away from Bangkok. The team might not fight for notoriety, but they don’t need to—their sweet spot is simply supplying consistent products in a great social atmosphere.
Ekkamai Mall, Ekamai Soi 10
Open daily: 5pm-midnight
Tel: 082 675 9673 | facebook.com/goldencoinstaproom
3 Bears Craft Brewery
1154, Sukhumvit Soi 22
Open: Mon-Fri 4pm-midnight, Sat-Sun 11am-midnight
Tel: 095 456 8298 | facebook.com/3bearscb